W. A. (William Alexander) Fraser.

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matters to arrange. I see yonder the sixteen Brahmins
who, according to our rites, assemble when one is to
pass at the Shrine of Omkar to kailas"

His large luminous eyes rested with tolerant placid-

270 Caste

ity upon the face of this man whom he must consider,
according to his tenets, as a creature antagonistic to
the true gods, and said, in his soft, modulated voice:
"Thou art young, Sahib, and full of the life force which
is essential to the things of the earth thou art like
the blossom of the mhowa tree that comes forth upon
bare limbs before the maturity of its foliage, it is then,
as thou art, joyous in the freshness of awaking life.
But life means eternity, the huge cycle that has been
since Indra's birth. Life here is but a step, a transi
tion from condition to condition, and the woman, by
one act of sacrifice, attains to the blissful peace that
many livings of reincarnated body would not achieve.
It is written in the law of Brahm that if one sacrifices
his life, this phase of it, to Omkar, who is Siva, even
though he had slain a Brahmin he shall be forgiven,
and sit in heaven with the Gandharvas (angels).
But it is also written that whosoever turns back in
terror, each step that he takes shall be equivalent to
the guilt of killing a Brahmin."

The priest's voice had risen in sonorous cadence
until it was compelling.

Bootea trembled like a wind-wavered leaf.

To Barlow it was horrible,- the mad infatuation of ia
man prostrate before false gods, idols, a rabid mate
rialism. That one, to fall crushed and bleeding from
the dizzy height of the ledge of sacrifice upon a red-
daubed stone representation of the repulsive emblem,
could thus wipe out the deadly sin of murder, was,
even spiritually, impossible.

The priest, his soul submerged by the sophistry of

Caste 271

his faith, passed from the gloomed cloister to the open

And Barlow, conscious of his helplessness unless
Bootea would now yield to his entreaties and for
swear the horrible sacrifice, turned to the girl, his face
drawn and haggard, and his voice, when he spoke,
vibrating tremulously from the pressure of his despair.
He held out his arms, and Bootea threw herself
against his breast and sobbed.

"Come back to Chunda with me, Gulab." Barlow

"No, Sahib," she panted, "it cannot be."

"But I love you, Bootea," he whispered.

"And Bootea loves the Sahib," and her eyes, as she
lifted her face, were wonderful. "There," she con
tinued, "the Sahib could not make the nika (marriage)
with Bootea, both our souls would be lost. But it is
not forbidden, even if it were and was a sin, all sins
will be forgiven Bootea before the sun sets, and if
the Sahib permits it Bootea will wed herself now to
the one she loves. Hold me in your arms tight, lest
I die before it is time."

And as Barlow pressed the girl to him, fiercely,
crushing her almost, she raised her lips to his, and they
both drank the long deep draught of love.

Then the Gulab drew from his arms and her face
was radiant, a soft exultation illumined her eyes.

"That is all, Sahib," she said. "Bootea passes now,
goes out to kailas in a happy dream. Go, Sahib, and
do not remain below for this is so beautiful. You
must ride forth in content."

272 Caste

She took him by the arm and gently led him to the

And from without he could hear a chorus of a thou
sand voices, its burden being, "The Kurban!"

Barlow turned, one foot in the sunshine and one in
the cloister's gloom, and kissed Bootea; and she could
feel his hot tears upon her cheek.

Once more he pleaded, "Renounce this dreadful

But the girl smiled up into his face, saying, "I die
happily, husband. Perhaps Indra will permit Bootea
to come back in spirit to the Sahib."

The High Priest strode to the entrance of the
cloister, his eyes holding the abstraction of one moving
in another world; he seemed oblivious of the English
man's presence as he said:

"Come forth, ye who seek kailas through Omkar."

As Barlow staggered, almost blind, over the stony
path from the cloister, he saw the group of sixteen
Brahmins, their foreheads and arms carrying the white
bars of Siva.

Then Bootea was led by the priest down to the cold
merciless stone Linga, where she, at a word from the
priest, knelt in obeisance, a barbaric outburst of music
from horn and drum clamouring a salute.

When Bootea arose to her feet the priest tendered
her some mhowa spirit in a cocoanut shell, but the
girl, disdaining its stimulation, poured it in a libation
upon the Linga.

From the amphitheatre of the enclosing hills thirty

Caste 273

thousand voices rose in one thundering chorus of "Jae,
jae, Omkar!" and, "To Omkar the Kurbanl"

Many pressed forward, mad fanaticism in their eyes,
and held out at arm's length toward the girl bracelets
and ornaments to be touched by her fingers as a

But Swami Sarasvati waved them back, and turning
to Bootea tendered her, with bowed head, the pan
supari (betel nut in a leaf) as an admonition that the
ceremony had ceased, and there was nothing left but
the sacrifice.

As the girl with firm step turned to the path that led
up through shrub and jungle growth to the ledge where
fluttered the white flag, a tumult of approbation went
up from the multitude at her brave devotion. Then a
solemn hush enwrapped the bowl of the hills, and the
eyes of the thousands were fixed upon the jutting shelf
of rock.

A dirge-like cadence, a mighty gasp of, "Ah, Kuda!"
sounded as a slim figure, white robed, like a wraith,
appeared on the ledge, and from her hand whirled
down to the rocks below a cocoanut, cast in sacrifice;
next a hand-mirror, its glass shimmering flickers of
gold from the sunlight.

For five seconds the white-clothed figure dis
appeared in the shrouding bushes; men held their
breath, and women gaspejl and clutched at their
throats as if they choked.

Then they saw her again, arms high held as though
she reached for God. And as the white-draped,

274 Caste

slender form came hurtling through the air women
swooned and men closed their eyes and shuddered.

An Englishman, clothed as a Hindu, lay prone on his
face on the hillside sobbing, the dry leaves drinking
in his tears, cursing himself for a sin that was not his.



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Online LibraryW. A. (William Alexander) FraserCaste → online text (page 16 of 16)